Siamese Rosewood Elevated to Protected Status

Siamese rosewood, which is illegally logged and exported from Cambodia in large quantities, will be protected internationally as a threatened species following a decision taken in Bangkok on Tuesday.

A meeting of the 177 countries party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) voted unanimously to protect Dalbergia Cochinchinensis, or Siamese rosewood, according to a statement from U.K.-based organization, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

The move sees Siamese rosewood added to CITES’ Appendix II, which lists species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but may become so if trade is not controlled. The decision means that a specific export license has to be granted to internationally trade the timber.

“This is a significant step forward for this desperately threatened species,” Faith Doherty, who heads the EIA’s forests campaign, said in the statement—which praised Thailand and Vietnam for proposing the addition of Siamese rosewood to Article II.

“With this listing the consumer markets will need to work with Thailand and the range states of Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos to ensure Siam Rosewood is actually protected, especially as there is [already] a logging ban in Thailand,” she said.

“Finally we have a legal tool to use in China, the main destination and where rosewood prices on the black market are spurring a flood of smuggling and associated violence,” Ms. Doherty continued.

Earlier in the conference, which has been running since March 3, the Chinese delegation had raised concerns over how Siamese rosewood would be identified, Ms. Doherty said by email. But the proposal was passed by consensus on Tuesday, without any interventions, she added.

Rosewood trees in Cambodia’s forests are thought to have been largely wiped out by illegal logging and the laundering of timber through economic land concessions driven by soaring demand for hardwood furniture in China.

Chinese customs recorded about 6,850 cubic meters of luxury wood logs—thought to be largely made up of rosewood—as having come from Cambodia in 2012.

Due to the scarcity of rosewood at home, Cambodians have illegally ventured over the border to Thailand to find surviving stocks, often being met with deadly force from Thai border military forces.

At least 45 Cambodians were shot dead by Thai soldiers during 2012 as they crossed the border looking for rosewood.

And even as the decision was taken in Bangkok on Tuesday, news was emerging that two more Cam­bodians were shot dead while hunting for rosewood on Monday night.

Cambodia is a party to CITES, and its delegate in Bangkok, Suon Phalla, deputy director of the Agriculture Ministry’s department of wildlife and biodiversity, confirmed the decision but de­clined to comment on Cambodia’s stance on the issue.

Council of Ministers spokes­man Phay Siphan said that Cambodia was already taking action to stamp out the rosewood trade, in the form of a directive issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen last month.

Mr. Siphan said the directive banned the logging, transportation and selling of rosewood, adding that it would mean furniture shops would be stopped from selling rosewood furniture and ornaments.

“First of all, it is to save the species,” Mr. Siphan said. “Second, to save the lives [of Cam­bo­dians] who cross the border to help the Thai businessmen to remove the logs.”

He also echoed a call from Mr. Hun Sen—who has urged an end to the wood’s illegal trade—for the countries that import rosewood from Cambodia to take action to stem demand.

“The people who buy and who use it…need to stop,” Mr. Siphan said. “It has to be international.”

However, while Christian Nellemann, a senior officer at the U.N. Environment Program’s rapid response unit, said in an email that the listing sent a “strong signal” on illegal logging and the luxury wood trade, he stressed that enforcement was the key.

“There is a strong and urgent need for strengthening further the transboundary collaboration on illegal logging and smuggling of both timber and rosewood in the larger Mekong region,” he said.

And James Hewitt, a London-based independent timber consultant, said it was likely that the criminal networks involved in the rosewood trade would continue despite the CITES listing.

“Until the listing is being implemented effectively, pressure on remaining Siamese Rosewood might even increase, including in Cambodia,” he said.

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